History of Haiti, 1492-1804

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As part of our "Haiti Christmas Project," we will provide brief opportunities for members to learn about Haiti's history, culture and life.  Here's the lesson for the 1st Sunday in Advent.


In 1492, Christopher Columbus landed his ships on the shores of Haiti.  There he met a very peaceful and fiendly people, the Taino.  Columbus wrote about them to his King and Queen:

Your Highnesses may believe that in all the world there can be no better people or gentler people…. All the people show the most singular loving behavior and they speak pleasantly.

The Taino lived a very simple life, farming, fishing and hunting.  They enjoyed games, told stories, and held festivals and ceremonies.  They also occasionally found small gold nuggets that they beat into plates and wore as small jewelry.  This little fashion fact would be their demise as Columbus assumed it meant there was much gold on Haiti.   He decided that Haiti was the place were he and his men would make their fortune.  After a short period of friendly relations, he grew impatient and waged war against the Taino, enslaved them and ultimately unleased smallpox on them.  Within 30 years, between 80 and 90 percent of the population died.  A few years after that they ceased to exist as a people.  Spanish priest Bartolomé de Las Casas, who was an eyewitness to these terrible events wrote: “Who in future generations will believe this?”

To replace the disappearing Taino, African slaves were brought to Haiti to work under terrible conditions.  In 1664, the French took control of Haiti from the Spanish; and after many years of war and slave revolts, Haiti won its independence in 1804.  The former African slaves who now controlled the island took the ancient Taino name of the island to be their new nation’s name:  Haiti (“Land of Mountains”).